David Hughes: Sycamores receive spark from unexpected source

May 8—Indiana State's baseball team will enter this weekend's three-game home series against Evansville with a chance to clinch the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title for the second year in a row.

Having built impressive records of 34-10 overall and 17-4 in the MVC, coach Mitch Hannahs' Sycamores own a three-game lead over the Purple Aces and UIC, both tied for second in the conference at 14-7. UIC will play host to fourth-place Illinois State (12-9 MVC) for three games during the same span.

After this weekend, Indiana State's remaining conference games will take place May 16-18 at Valparaiso.

A Sycamore sweep or taking two out of three against Evansville this weekend would eliminate the Aces from the MVC regular-season race, although the MVC tournament is slated for May 21-25 in Evansville this year. So the Aces will have a home-field advantage then, regardless of their seed.

Indiana State already swept UIC on March 29-31 at Bob Warn Field.

So the Sycamores are in the driver's seat — barring an unexpected collapse — to repeat as MVC regular-season champions. Basically, the Aces and Flames need the Trees to lose at least twice this weekend.

That's unlikely, considering the Sycamores haven't lost a conference series since Herbert Hoover was president (slight exaggeration, it was 2022).

But there's a reason why teams actually play these games: Nothing is guaranteed. Teams with better records sometimes lose to teams with worse records.

First-pitch times for Evansville vs. Indiana State at Bob Warn Field are 4:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.

When they clash, expect to see offense, offense, offense. Evansville will bring the MVC's leading hitter, graduate student Mark Shallenberger, who's batting .391 for the season. He's also belted 14 home runs and knocked in 52 runs.

Shallenberger gets plenty of help from senior Kip Fougerousse, a former Linton High School standout who's listed at 16th in the MVC in hitting at .321.

Indiana State doesn't lack pop either.

Junior first baseman Luis Hernandez, who's driven in a league-high 59 runs, ranks third in batting average at .371. Hernandez has contributed 15 roundtrippers as well.

The next-highest-hitting Sycamore might surprise you, however.

It's redshirt senior left fielder Dominic Listi, who's seventh in the league at .353. He played the previous four seasons at ... NCAA Division III North Central College in Naperville, Ill.

Around the same time that last year's Sycamores reached the NCAA Division I Terre Haute Regional and Fort Worth Super Regional, Listi was graduating from NCC with a degree in accounting and entering the transfer portal to determine where he would use his one remaining year of athletic eligibility. As a senior in 2023, Listi led the Cardinals in batting with a .375 average (barely higher than what he's hitting at the D-I level).

Apparently, Listi didn't require much time to adjust to tougher pitching.

Usually penciled in under lead-off man Randal Diaz on the lineup card, Listi has started all 44 Indiana State games and reached base in 43 of them. In addition to his 54 hits, he's got on via walks 31 times and hit-by-pitches 19 times for an on-base percentage of .505. Plus, he's prolonged potential big innings by hitting into zero double plays.

Displaying rare power, Listi line-drived one of his two homers this season Saturday when I was covering Indiana State's 8-5 triumph over Belmont.

At the time, I thought, "My goodness, whoever found this Dom Listi guy deserves a medal."

To be honest, we may need more than one medal.

"This is awesome," Listi said after Saturday's game, during which the Sycamores smashed five homers. "It's truly special here [with so many good hitters in the lineup]. ... It's so fun being part of this team."

Asked how he ended up at D-III North Central, Listi replied: "Out of [Prairie Ridge] high school [in Illinois], I didn't get much attention whatsoever [from Division I universities]. North Central was a great home for me for four years."

The "find" occurred last summer when Listi played on the same Northwoods League summer team with ISU players Adam Pottinger and Henry Brown.

Brown reportedly put in a good word to Hannahs, who previously had received multiple emails and an intriguing highlight video from Listi.

"He has been an absolute unbelievable addition to our program," Hannahs said of Listi. "He's been more than we ever could have asked. ... It's amazing how he works the pitcher."

There's no doubt Listi appreciates Hannahs finally giving him a chance to play D-I baseball.

"I'm very blessed for that," Listi mentioned.

So are fans of Indiana State baseball.

Tribune-Star sports reporter David Hughes can be reached after 4 p.m. by phone at (812) 231-4224 (just text him on his cell instead); by email at; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.